Ramblings

January 2015


New Year’s Gift! New Year’s Gift!
We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
A pocket full of money and a cellar full of beer.
A good far pig to last you all the year.
So please give us a New Year’s gift this new year.
The roads are very dirty, our boots are very thin,
We have a little pocket to pop a penny in,
The cock was in the roosting-house, the hen came chuckling by,
Please give us a penny or a mince pie.
If you haven’t a penny a ha’penny will do,
If you haven’t a ha’penny God bless you.
New Year’s Gift! New Year’s Gift!
Please give us a New Year’s gift this new year.

A rhyme recorded in The Folklore of Radnorshire by Roy Palmer

New Years Day, Thursday – Leominster – The new year starts grey and damp but milder than the end of the last. Dark grey clouds drift eastwards. Blackbirds are muttering around Etnam Street car park. A Robin ticks, Jackdaws chack and Blue Tits chatter. Around the Grange and down the playing field to the Millennium Orchard. A Common Buzzard calls but is nowhere to be seen. The orchard is bare and grey, the grass dotted with dead leaves. The wind is strengthening. Carrion Crows caw. The winter thrushes have moved on having stripped the bushes and hedgerows bare of berries. Past the old mortuary which the Council wish to demolish. The Minster stands silent and timeless. Down The Priory. A terrace of houses date from the mid-19th century. The house that stands where Pinsley Brook once ran is 20th century and the house by the Kenwater bridge is 17th century. The terrace opposite lining the river is early 19th century. The rest of the houses are 20th century. The Bridge Street-Mill Street junction has a residence to the west, once an antique shop and before that The Golden Lion built in the early 19th century. The block containing Walter Jones Machine shop and an antique shop is 18th century although much altered. The Hop Pole pub is 19th century. Up Bridge Street. Preservation House is late 14th or early 15th century. A barge board has badly weathered carving. It was once the Cross Keys Inn. 25 Bridge Street is 16th century or possibly older. Bridge Court is modern sheltered housing which must have involved the demolition of a good number of old houses when it was built in the 1980s. Brook Hall and Pinsley House stand either side of Vicarage Road along which Pinsley Brook ran before passing under Bridge Street which went under the house at No. 44.

Friday – Radnor Forest – Clouds tinged with purple and yellow sail across a blue sky. Near Eardisland a Common Buzzard stands on top of a telephone pole by the roadside watching a field of sheep. At Lyonshall, a large flock of winter thrushes rises from a cider orchard. Through to New Radnor which is bathed in winter sunshine. A stiff breeze blows. Up Mutton Dingle and Cwm Broadwell. Common Buzzards mew, Blue Tits chatter and branches creak in the wind. The sun shines brightly but with little heat low in the southern sky. The hills in the east are dark and foreboding. To the north the sheep pastures give way to dull brown heathers and dead bracken. Up the forestry track and on up the past through the cleared plantation now full of saplings, sadly conifers again. A fallen fence post makes a convenient seat by the track that runs round to Ednol Hill. Below is Fellingthe green patchwork of fields in the Walton plain. Just one field is brown soil. Across the edge of the moorland on the east of Whinyard Rocks. A Stonechat fled past low over the heather. The path crests the hill into the teeth of the gale. It seems that the Red Kites and Ravens have no interest in being up here in this wind. A Meadow Pipit rises and flutters into the wind. A pair of Mistle Thrushes fly over high in the buffeting air. Over the fence and onto the forestry track at the top of Cwm Mawr which runs down to Cascob.

Northwards through the loudly rustling trees of Glastir. Either side of the path is a different environment. Below the path the ground is covered in mosses and sedges, above grasses and bilberries. Many of the Spruces have good cone crops, hopefully attracting Crossbills. The track is now the one I was unable to take late last year because of tree felling. It now passes a vast area of devastation, chewed up ground and stumps. The track reaches the cross-dyke and Shepherd’s Well. A path is supposed to lead to Mynydd Ffoesidoes nature reserve but it is practically non-existent. One stumbles across tussocks of heathers and bilberry trying to avoid ankle-twisting holes. A Raven flies over croaking. Across the top of Harley Dingle. The traverse to the triangulation point at Black Mixen is hard going through very boggy ground. A cyclist passes and tells me he has taken far longer to get up here as he had been pedalling into a headwind the whole way and is now looking forward to returning with a tailwind. As I come over the hill I can see a couple of people visiting the barrow on Bache Hill. As I start down the path along the Ystol Bach valley, I can see three more walkers heading round the Whinyard Rocks path – it is a busy day on the Radnor Forest! The wind is slightly easier until I reach Whinyard Rocks and Whimble where it is funnelled between the two hills. The wind eases as the path begins to drop down into Cwm Broadwell. Route

Saturday – Home – It is a long day as it rains near continuously. In the afternoon it finally clears away so I take the opportunity to dig the rest of the parsnips. Most are huge, misshapen with numerous roots. However when they are cleaned, peeled and cut there is over 8lb of vegetable for the freezer. The hens’ laying has slowed, either two or just a single egg most days. The bird feeders are still being raided by Jackdaws, something needs to be done!

Frost

Sunday – Leominster – The morning is cold, frosty and misty. The pavements are icy. Down Etnam Street to the railway crossing bridge. The station is deserted. At 2:15 in the morning of 12th February 1865, the boiler of a locomotive standing in the station exploded. The walls of the ladies waiting room were blown in and the whole of the eastern side of the station, now just a platform with a small shelter but then a number of buildings, were demolished with bricks ending up fifty feet up in the trees by the River Lugg. A large piece of iron weighing half a hundredweight was blown towards the Worcester Road. The explosion was felt several miles away and it was fortunate that it happened in the small hours and no-one was killed as would undoubtedly be the case if it had occurred during the daytime. The River Lugg is grey and still flowing swiftly. There are chirps and cheeps from the trees. Easter Meadows is pale with frost. The path to Eaton Bridge is slightly firmed by the cold but still muddy. A pristine Blackbird with jet plumage and a bright orange beak sits fluffed up against the cold on a log pile. Fresh molehills run along the path. Across from the paddocks a Great Tit and Jackdaws can be heard but not seen in the mist. Over Eaton Bridge and down to the route of the old A44. Frosted seed heads of umbellifers are white and lacy. Across the A49 where white cobwebs festoon the traffic lights. The old A44 is now a cycle track and footpath and the lack of traffic means water has stood and frozen. The road is treacherous right over the railway bridge and down to the Worcester Road. Back towards Etnam Street and into Pinsley Road. I am still walking very gingerly as there is ice everywhere. The bells of the Minster ring out calling to prayer. A Carrion Crow and Collared Dove have an argument in a tree at Pilgrims Inn. There are numerous dog walkers on the Grange. Through the churchyard; the bells are quite deafening here. Down The Priory and across the iron bridge over the Kenwater which like the Lugg is flowing with plenty of water. Through the Paradise housing estate and into Bridge Street and back home.

Monday – Gladestry-Caety Traylow – A flock of Lapwings flies high near Monkland, not a common sight hereabouts. The sun lights the hills but heavy banks of clouds lay over them. Robins are singing in Gladestry. Past the church. The house being built last time I passed is now complete. House Sparrows chase past nearly colliding with my head. Up the narrow lane lying between high banks and hedges. A Great Tit can be heard across the field from the wood around Pen-faen Brook. An old quarry lies in Goby Banks. A clump of Oyster Mushrooms is growing on an Elder on the bank. A Common Buzzard and a Red Kite soar up the valley ahead, the later rising until it is just a speck in the blue. Blue Tits chatter as they search Elder and Hawthorns for insects hidden in cracks and crevices. Further on, more Blue Tits and Siskin are noisy in the tops of Alders. Cilbygn (or Cil-bygn on the map) Farm is up a track. Harry Ingram of Cilbygn has a headstone in the graveyard. He died in 2007. Two other graves contain Ingrams, I suspect they are his mother and her sister. Fields are covered in molehills like a pox-infected face. A tractor moving boulders and rubble kindly stops and lets me pass in the narrow lane. Lane House Farm is a fine Hilllonghouse, with a cottage at one end and a barn at the other. The lane arrives at Gwaithla. Once the lane continued westwards along the side of a small brook but that has all disappeared and a lane now runs from Derw which is beyond Gwaithla Farm. A bridleway leads across fields beneath Caety Traylow hill. To the north, Burl Hill rises with a green top on slopes of bracken like verdigris on copper. A large flock of Chaffinches rises from the ground. Redwings are scattered through the trees lining the brook. Jays screech in a small copse.

The track runs along the base of the steep scarp slope. The clouds are building and the wind strengthening. Although the sun still shines on the hillsides and tops, down here in the shade it is cold. The path rises and below is a spring, the source of the brook. A Raven cronks high on the hill top. Behind, Hergest Ridge and Hanter Hill bestride the horizon. The track crosses a Barrowstream running down from the hill, the map marks it as a ford. This stream joins Gilwern Brook which flows through Gilwern Dingle to the north of Gwaithla. The track rises steeply across a spur. A Red Kite soars up over the edge of the slope. Across the valley is a ruined cottage, Cwm-y-bont. Now behind is Whimble and Whinyard Rocks, their barrows visible in profile. The mast of Black Mixen is almost lost in the cloud. Below the Gilwern Brook is flowing through a deep defile also called Cwm-y-bont. A large murder of Crows rises from the moorland. Opposite is a large slope of sheep pasture. There are a number of pillow mounds (used in mediaeval times for rabbits) marked on the map along with house platforms, which can be seen on the ground. The relationship, if any, between the houses and the rabbit warren is unknown. The land below on this side of the brook has a number of mediaeval features in the form of field systems and ancient trackways. Over another spur and below is a triangular area of land bounded by a low rampart. In the corner is the house and a poly-tunnel of Pant-glâs. The land was enclosed for cultivation sometime in the mediaeval period. On the northern edge of the land are supposed to be two bronze age barrows.

Down to the small cottage although it is little more than a stone shepherd’s hovel. A wind generator whorls rapidly. Down beyond the bottom earth wall is the first barrow. It is fairly worn down. Beyond towards the brook is the second which is no more than a small mound maybe two feet high and three feet across. Back to the cottage. Across the valley a shepherd on a quad-bike brings feed to the sheep. His Border Collie runs ahead. When the quad-bike stops the sheep hurry over, obviously used to the dog. A track runs up the hill. As the quad-bike sets off on its way, the collie hops aboard for a ride. Towards the top of the hill is a wooden plaque depicting a fox with the words For Lives Unlived, I assume an anti-hunting sentiment. Ravens are perched on the peak of the hill. The tracks up here can be misleading and I realise I have reached the Mawr Pool. I need to be further to the north-east. Another farmer on a quad-bike comes up the hill with his collie and confirms my suspicions. The track starts down the hillside past Upper Cwm-Einoin (now Upper Cwminon). It continues down to a gate and then down a rough muddy track to a surfaced lane which rejoins the Gladestry lane. It is now quite overcast but the wind is almost non-existent down here. Back down part Wood Farm where the brook has been dammed to form a pond beside which is a wooden summerhouse. Route

Tuesday – Leominster – It is Old Christmas Day. The early church celebrated Christmas on this day but then it was moved to 25th December to appropriate the pagan festivals around the winter solstice, in particular Jul, a Scandinavian festival which led to the Christmas season being called Yuletide. Other theories as to the choice of date have gained and then lost popularity over the years. One is that Christmas Day is nine months after the date of the annunciation on 25th March. Another is that it was chosen to replace Dies Natalis Solis Invictus, a Roman festival of the rebirth of the sun. in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII instituted the Gregorian Calendar. Protestant Northern Europe refused to change so coincidently they were celebrating Christmas according to the new calendar on 6th January again. England finally came into line in 1752. Some still regard the 6th January as Christmas Day. Now, traditionally it is the day that the decorations come down, although ours went last weekend. It is another chilly day although the sun is bright.

Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – In the early hours of the morning, a brilliant moon lit up the area. Close by at the zenith Jupiter glowed bright orange-yellow. This morning the sky in the east clouds were tinged red but now it is covered by grey clouds. A Bullfinch flies up from the Wigeontrack into a tree, its breast bright rosy pink against the grey. A Jay hops across the grass, head turning this way and that as his bright eye searches the ground. Blue Tits, Goldfinches and Chaffinches are in the waterside Alders. The whistling of Wigeon comes from the lake. The path to the hide is a quagmire. In front of the hide it is clear the water level has risen again. Fifty plus Wigeon are around a much reduced the scrape. Five Mute Swans fly in. Several Goosander are scattered around the lake. Another eighteen Mute Swans descend with quiet grunts. Tufted Duck and Mallard congregate at the western end. The only two Canada Geese apparently present take off and depart noisily. A Grey Heron stands on the far bank, another stands on a branch in the south-western corner. There are three Cormorants in the trees. Just a single, drake Goldeneye is diving in the far side. It starts to rain. Most of the swans are preening, ducking and rolling in the water to clean their feathers. There appears to be only two Coot present. Another two pairs of Canada Geese have appeared, as does a third Coot. A couple of Redwings are in the orchard. A Coal Tit flies down the hedge between the cider and dessert apple orchards. Moles have been busy in the orchard. Their hills are red, indicating Old Red Sandstone whilst just a little lower down by the track, the mole hills are nearly black, indicating alluvial deposits.

Friday – Bryn-y-maen – The Lapwing flock is over the west of Monkland again, this time larger and split in two. The sun is bright over the hills but a gale is blowing. Wigeon and Coot bob on Llynheilyn. A local tale related that Silver John Lloyd was part of a family of bonesetters. He lived in the Harley Valley by New Radnor. Instead of payment he preferred gifts of the silver buttons and buckles which gave him his nickname. He set out for Builth Michaelmas Fair and was never seen again, until Radnor Candlemass fair was held on the ice of the frozen Llynheilyn. The landlord’s daughter of the Fforest Inn slipped and fell while skating, spotting the remains of Silver John beneath the ice. Llynheilyn is about 1250 feet above sea-level Settlementand covers some 8 acres. A Grey Heron flies up from the reeds. A family of Mute Swans, pen, cob and five cygnets are preening in the shore. A Gossamer fishes among the Wigeon. The lake is surrounded by hills except to the west where the Builth Wells road drops down into the valley. The water level is high and it has flooded over the track. Further on is a marsh with another pond, Hanover Pool. The track rises in the shade until again the sun tops the hill blinding me as I climb. Through a series of pens and up to the fallen standing stone on Bryn-y-maen. I do wonder if the stone is just an erratic, dropped by a glacier, there are a number of large stones around the hill.

I then have to cross the hillside to find the bridleway again. A field of stubble has turnips scattered across it for the grazing sheep. A couple of ponds lie at the edges of the fields. A gate indicates where the track comes up the hill and a marker points south at a moor. There is no discernible track but I set off through the heathers and sedges and end up more or less is the right place. From a small headland I can see a small quarry (called old at the end of the 19th century) is below me which means the track is to the right. I soon find it and follow it into a little defile and across more grassy moor past more sheep. Down into the small valley carved by Gilwern Brook which is forded by the track. The wind is rather less blustery down here. A rather insubstantial track heads across rough grassland and over what looks like a cross-dyke. There are numerous earth enclosures across these moors. A deserted post-mediaeval settlement of Beili Bedw is to the Barrownorth of the path, just this side of the brook. The settlement consisted of two longhouses and another building. Beili Bedw does not appear on the 1831 Ordnance Survey map, although the boundary banks of its field system are shown, and by the time of the 1840 Glascwm parish tithe map the site has been turned into a nursery for local woodland plantations. This site is another sign of the level of occupation of this valley from the Bronze Age until, in some cases the last century when the farm at Black Yat was abandoned.

Across a pasture where several brooks make for tricky manoeuvres to avoid sinking into saturated mud. I then find I am on the track that comes across the hills via Black Yat. This is not a problem as I want the junction of the track from the ford, which I appear to have missed, and this track. At the junction there should be a Bronze Age barrow. It takes a long time to locate it as it had been badly eroded. Cwmceste Barrow was some 9 metres across and 0.4 metres high when it was first recorded in 1902, but is now maybe 7 metres across and half the previous height. Back down the track I should Stoneshave taken towards the ford. The weather is deteriorating now. A track runs westwards out onto moorland again. Past Beilibedw Mawn Pools, an area of ponds and marsh, the source of Gilwern Brook. A Common Buzzard soars overhead and Ravens bark up on Bryn-y-maen Hill. A dozen Scots Pines stand by the pools. A number of Blackbirds fly out of the trees and off up the hillside.

The track shortly reaches Four Stones. The stones are an alignment of four (or maybe five) stones running north-east to south-west. 70 yards away is Bryn-y-maen Barrow, a large Bronze Age barrow. Paths cross here and it has been suggested that a small defensive building was here, maybe a taxation post on a drovers’ road. I take the path that passes the barrow and heads round Bryn-y-maen hill back towards Llynheilyn. The Builth road runs along below the hillside above the valley bottom where Llanwenny farm lies. A Red Kite drifts down the valley. The rain finally arrives. A large flock of Starlings flies across the hillside. Another Red Kite flies low over the hill top. Around the edge of the hill and Castle Tomen sits at Cae Banal above the A44 junction. There would have been a wooden castle here, probably in the 11th or 12th centuries. The rain is being driven hard by the high winds. Back down at the lake, the map records there are house platforms on the hillside but there is very little to see on the ground. Back in Leominster, a Peregrine Falcon flies over Morrisons supermarket car park. Route

Sunday – Leominster – Grey clouds slip away to the south-east. There is a breeze but the strong winds have gone. They were relatively benign compared to the violent gales that have torn through Scotland and the north, bringing down power lines and knocking over lorries on the Great North Road. Down Etnam Street. A Raven croaks overhead and Wood Pigeons coo persistently. Along the river through Easters Meadows. The trees are busy with Blue, Long-tailed and Great Tits, a good number of Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Blackbirds, a Robin and only a couple of Redwings. Common Buzzards apart out from Eaton Hill. A number of the trees have pendulous growths of Mistletoe, others host Ivy. Beyond Ridgemoor Bridge, long yellow-green catkins dangle in the wind. The bells of the Minster toll 9 o’clock and then the Compline bells call.

Monday – Leominster – A blustery wind shakes the tops of the bare trees and sets the evergreens swaying. Grey clouds drift eastwards. It is dull and dank. Past the Minster and down The Priory. The Kenwater is flowing fast, deep and dark but the water is relatively clear. Along the river and down to Mill Street. At Ridgemoor Bridge the Lugg is also flowing steadily. Cheaton Brook is clear unlike its usual thick, red flow. Through Easters Court and over the A49. Along the track towards Eaton Hill. The gate by the new house has been chained and a small pedestrian gate installed. Clearly the land owners tired of people trespassing by driving up to the small parking area at the communications mast. SolarInstead of following the track as usual, I take the public footpath up through Comfordt Wood. It crosses a little old bridge over a deep ditch which is quite dry now. The path runs along the top of the hill. Fat rabbits run down the slope into the Ash thickets. There is a surprise in the field behind the mast, a vast array of solar panels had been installed and men are still working on them. This is probably the main reason for the locked gate.

From the top of the hill Leominster lays below in the broad river valley. The new Dale’s site has a vast warehouse that dominates the southern aspect. It is raining as I descent descend the old drovers’ steps. Over Eaton Bridge where lorries pound past inches away. Over the A49 again and across the railway on the old road. A footpath wends muddily through the industrial estate. A Song Thrush is in full flow somewhere on some rough ground behind St Botolphs Green. The footpath emerges onto Southern Avenue beside rows of bright green, brand new tractors at the John Deere dealership. Up Cockcroft Lane and along to Ryelands. The path is just passable again after being blocked by fallen trees for some time. Westwards down Ryelands Road and off along Orchard Lane. A footpath disappears in meadow. I can see a wooden stile, so I head for it but it seems that this probably not the stile for the footpath. Nevertheless, this is more less the right direction. The path will be at the bottom of the field, but there are sheep down there huddled against the hedge protecting themselves against the rain, so I decide I can walk around the other sides of the field. It is pretty muddy and my boots need a good scraping when I emerge into Morrisons’ car park.

Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A blinding sun shines from an azure sky on fields that have the merest sprinkling of snow. It is still cold, barely above freezing. Large flocks of winter thrushes move around the fields outside the village of Bodenham. The track to the lake is icy. A drake Goldeneye throws his head back in display as he tries to impress the female he is following. A Great Spotted Woodpecker calls from the orchard. The meadow is wet and muddy having already thawed in the sun. The relative peace is broken by the arrival of a cackling gaggle of Canada Geese. There are ten Goosander spread across the lake. The bulk of the duck are at the western end, CormorantMallard, Wigeon and Tufted Duck. The family of Mute Swans is heading that way from the reed bed. There are just two Cormorants in the trees; a third arrives. A Grey Heron flaps across the southern side with a strangled squawk. Three Little Grebe are diving off the east end of the island. Another family of Mute Swans swim into view. A Common Pheasant croaks in the fields. Two of the Cormorants fetch up onto the scrape. One immediately returns to the water whilst the other stands and dries its wings for a couple of minutes before slipping back into the water and starting to flap furiously on the surface. A cold wind is rising. Now more Mute Swans have swum into view making a total of eighteen. A Great Crested Grebe and one of the few Coot present are at the western end. A pale half moon is in the sky. Blackbirds and a single Redwing are in the Alder plantation. Ravens and a Common Buzzard circle above the Westfield Wood. More Redwings, Blackbirds and several Great Tits are in the meadow hedgerow. Bodenham Manor stands on the hillside under the eaves of the wood. It was built as a vicarage in the Victorian Tudor style in 1843-44 for Revd Henry Arkwright who was appointed as clergyman of Bodenham in 1842 by John Hungerford Arkwright (1785-1858) of Hampton Court, grandson of the cotton-spinning industrialist Sir Richard Arkwright (1732-92). The building was used as a Borstal between 1969 and 1987. It has had a chequered history recently with the owner losing it to a bank who he accused of fraudulently issuing a loan in his name. Police were involved last year in the removal of squatters from the now empty property.

Mile Stone

Friday – Craven Arms – The sky is blue, the sun shining and the pavements icy. Through the crossroad in Craven Arms, past a tall milestone (more a mile-obelisk), dating from the late 18th century with thirty six destinations, as far as north to Edingburgh (sic) – 295; west to Carmarthen – 77; south to Plymouth – 205 and east to London – 150. Under the railway bridge. The houses are mainly 20th century until pleasant terrace – Milwaukee Terrace, opposite is Albion Villas. A footpath crosses small fields before joining the Shropshire Way on the other side of a lane which is Watling Street, one of the major Roman roads. To the north-east Flounder’s Tower stands atop the wooded Callow Hill and to the north and north-west are the South Shropshire Hills leading to Long Mynd. According to a small sign, this path is also the Wart Hill Wander. A flock of Chaffinches flies up into the hedgerow from the edge of the field and a Redwing watches from a Crab Apple tree which has a number of brown, rotting fruits. Across the field House Sparrows chatter around what I now assume was once a farm worker’s house, almost certainly not now. The farmhouse, New House is a short distance beyond, a sturdy but plain Georgian three storey building. A Robin stands on a sheep feed frame. The sky is clouding over and a brief shower of sleet ensues. An Ash tree sports a large black fungal growth, King Alfred’s Cakes, Daldinia concentrica, named after the tale of King Alfred burning the cakes he was supposed to be watching whilst he mused on defeating the marauding Danes. A railway sleeper bridge crosses a drainage ditch running the length of the field. The path joins a land that leads into Sibdon Carwood, from Saxon origin meaning Sibba’s farmstead, Carwood, meaning the wood where the rocks are found. A fortified manor called Shepeton Corbet by a number of historical documents, was here. It was one of a number owned by the Corbet family. Past a gatehouse or lodge, Castlecalled Pigeon House, still a residence and is supposed to have once been a dovecote. Snowdrops are in flower in front of the building. Along the drive to Sibdon Carwood Castle. The drive is lined by a wall separating the drive from the farmyard. Ancient fruit and fig trees are espaliered along the wall. Opposite are neat hedges and lawns. The drive passes the front of the castle. The castle was built by the Corbetts in the 18th century around a 17th century core, I assume on the site of their fortified manor. A path leads to St Michaels church. It was built in 1741 on the site of a 12th century church. The tower was added around 1800 and the building restored and extended in 1872 by Thomas Nicholas. Unfortunately the church is locked. Nuthatches, Jackdaws and Jays are all calling from the surrounding Yew trees. A Common Buzzard calls overhead.

Back down the drive to where the Shropshire Way continues across a field but is unmarked on the ground and it takes a few minutes to discover the way mark and stile hidden in a hedge. Nearby is an old gravel pit into which rubbish has been thrown. It must surely be locals, no-one else can easily get a vehicle near here. One wonders why they despoil the countryside like this! After another sharp, cold shower the sun re-emerges. On over a hill beside a conifer plantation, Birds Coppice. This and the nearby Oldfield Wood are being used for pheasant rearing and ChurchRing-necked Pheasants run up alongside the fence. Past a strange, ruined, square red brick on old stone footings. It may be connected with the nearby gravel workings. Onto Hopesay Hill, a National Trust protected area. Sheep and wild ponies graze the scrub. Below is Hopesay village, the name coming from Hope meaning valley and Say coming from Picot de Say who was lord of the manor following the Norman Conquest. The path travels north along a row of old Hawthorns stretching into the distance. From here one can see the line of hillforts, Burrow Hill, Wart Hill, Bodbury Hill and Caer Caradoc. The path drops to a lane then climbs steeply up through conifers to the triangulation point on Wart Hill. Wart Hill was a small hill-fort in the Iron Age. Much of the ramparts have been ploughed out over the centuries. The conifers on top of the hill are older pines. The conifers somewhat spoil the views but there is still much to gaze upon. It looks like rain is falling on Long Mynd.

Back down to the lane and along through the tiny hamlet of Round Oak. A lane sign points to The Fish, houses built from the ruins of a monastery where monks practised aquaculture. Past a row of cottages with small sundials on the game ends on two of them, both sadly without pointers. A lane heads off to Cheney Longville. The road is flooded and a farmer is kicking debris away from the outflow. I wade across and on along the lane. Past Upper Carwood Farm where geese cackle at me. The lane crests by Heath Hill and starts to descend. The view to the east is of the great woodland of Wenlock Edge, then Flounder’s Folly flanked behind southwards the white dome on Titterstone Clee and north the masts on Brown Clee. A roadside pond opposite Wood House (as on the map, the residents seem to think Wood Cottage sounds better) still has a thin layer of ice in a corner. The cottages and barn at Longville Common are now bijoux residences. A faint rainbow rises from the Onney valley beyond. Lorries pound the A49. Sheets of rain or alert fall over Wenlock Edge. Then tiny pellets of snow Wart Hillstart to call here with a chittering sound. Into Cheney Longville past an earthwork. The roadsign in Round Oak stated that it was ¾ mile to here, but I seem to have covered more than that! (Indeed, checking the map later reveals that a 1 was missing from the sign.) The village is mainly a number of farms and 17th and 18th century cottages near a castle. It was just plain Langfeld in 1087 when it was owned by Shrewsbury Abbey until they exchanged it for a closer manor. Roger de Cheney gave his name to the village around 1395 when he was given a licence to embattle his house possibly on account of the unrest in the area at that time. The castle was attacked and captured in the Civil War. Castle Farm used to be a fortified manor house. The manor was bought in 1682 for £1,375 by John Talbot who in turn sold it in 1745 to William Beddoes, whose descendants still own it. A stream flows beside the road running through small culverts under a barn. A bright red Victorian post box is set into the wall. Nearby is a telephone box containing a fire extinguisher. It is a K6 telephone kiosk designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, installed in 1943 and Grade II listed. My route now follows narrow lane back to the A49 at Newington or New Inn, a village much earlier than the main town . The area is one large industrial estate. Down the main road. Craven Arms is conterminous with Newington. Past a row of houses, Sibdon View, 1934. The houses into the town are of that period, getting earlier closer to the crossroads but with modern infilling. The western side of the road is a continuous run of industrial units. The early 20th century houses suddenly stop and start on the other side of the road. Late 20th century building take over the eastern side. By the road to the station is an abandoned building of some size, the Temperance Hall built in 1865. Then the buildings change again, mid 20th century to the east, late 20th century to the west. Finally on the west is Craven Lodge, probably Victorian then modern retail units until the Craven Arms pub on the crossroads. On the eastern side are the former post office of 1940, now council offices, a couple of early 20th century houses then a modern block. Off down Corvedale Road which contains some of the older houses and buildings in the town. A quick visit to an excellent butchers and then through the backstreets, past the old dairy, school and the substantial Stokesay Castle Hotel.

Sunday – Leominster – It is still dark. Large purple-black clouds cover much of the sky although the occasional star and the bright point of Jupiter are visible. There is tentative song from Robins and mutterings from Blackbirds. I get the chicken’s water container to give it a good clean. The hen’s squawk quietly, their door has not opened yet as there is not enough light for the photocell to switch on the motor. A pair of Carrion Crows pass, calling loudly. It is cold but not freezing although the cars are covered in fern-like frost patterns. When it has lightened a little, some warm layers’ mash and water with a splash of cider vinegar is taken out to the hens. A little later I head round to Sydonia Park which is behind Etnam Street. A ground mist covers the park as the sun rises through the remnants of the clouds that brought overnight rain. Through the uninspiring Castlefields housing estate and down to the Worcester road. Over the old road bridge where ice makes for tentative footsteps. At Eaton Bridge, the Lugg is full and muddy. A Great Tit calls. The climb up Eaton Hill is slippery on slick mud and it is not until the top is reached that the ground is frozen. Mist hangs over the course of the River Arrow. The distant Welsh hills are white with snow. The clouds, which are now overhead, are creeping almost imperceptibly slowly south-westwards. The bells of the Minster ring out. Down to the A49 and along Mill Street over Ridgemoor Bridge. Several Grey Squirrels are in the riverside trees. Around the footpath by the River Kenwater, which is flowing rapidly. The bell-ringers must be in attendance in the tower of the Minster as the ringing has not stopped. Suddenly, it does stop and one is left with the two note song of a Great Tit, cooing Wood Pigeons and the chuckling river. Then the bells resume, drowning out all. I wonder if this is a campanologists’ training session as a number of the peals seem out of time and rather discordant. Into Bridge Street car park. This place has seen many changes, monastic fishponds, town dump, gas works and now a very icy and slippery car park. Route

Home – Work needs to be done in the garden. Down come the runner bean poles and the sinuous, dead bean vines. A trench is dug in the adjoining bed to fill with garden and kitchen refuse in which this year’s runners will be grown. The compost in the greenhouse bed is getting tired so several barrow loads are dug out and dumped into the chicken run. The hen’s are clucking contentedly as they search for anything to eat then use the dry compost as a dust bath, something they have been missing as everything is wet and muddy in the run. Fresh compost is dug out of one of the big wooden bins and tipped on the greenhouse bed. It is pretty rough stuff, lots of bits of stem and some unrotted paper, but it should be fine for tomatoes. Earlier in the month we had cut down the grape vines and had a go at pruning the unruly rose on the pergola. Kay had shredded a good deal of the clippings but a lot remained so I get on with reducing this lot to shreddings; not a job I enjoy much but it needs to be done.

Monday – Stoke Prior – Bright sunshine and a clear blue sky. A Great Tit calls in the car-park. Wood Pigeons, Jackdaws and Greenfinches all sit silently in the trees. Across the Grange and down to the Kenwater. Around to Mill Street and along to Ridgemoor. There is not a heavy frost but it is still freezing cold. At Hay Lane the path follows the edge of a field them across Cheaton Brook. An old tree, a Field Maple I think, is rotten to the core, its main trunks dead, Mapleriddled with woodworm yet still has numerous live branches! The path joins a lane and I head southwards to the Pudleston junction. Care is required to avoid the numerous ice patches on the road. Near the junction, Rooks are noisy in a stand of trees which contains a rookery of a dozen or so nests. At the junction some joker has turned the road sign round to point the opposite direction to the correct one. Using my stick I manage to reverse it! Past The Wain, a number of conversions. The lane enters Stretford where Stretford Brook flows under the road. The name indicates this was a ford where the street, a name for a Roman road, passed. The bends in the lane make it difficult to conceive of this as a Roman road and one suspects the original route has been lost in places. Stretford Bury is a 17th century farmhouse. The area has a complicated Roman history not helped by limited information and the loss of much evidence through stone robbing and ploughing over the centuries. It is believed there was a villa and a bath complex in a field called Stonechesters, itself an indication of a Roman fort. The Forge stands opposite the entrance to Stretford Bury. It is now a private house. The other houses in the hamlet are either 20th century or much developed older buildings. The lane crosses the A44. The Trumpet once stood on the junction and The Drum is a short distance down the lane. From here the border hills can be seen still topped with snow. Along the lane towards Humber. A Raven flies over, cronking. A turning leads down to Stoke Prior, past the school. A large cider orchard lies down the slope as the lane descends into the village. On down past the extensive grounds of the Old Rectory. The lane levels out at Wall End Farm. The farm house was constructed around 1600. Nearby is Priory Farm, the farmhouse being originally 14th century with later alterations. Through the village and onto the road to Eaton Bridge. Fields by the River Lugg are flooded as they are most years, true water meadows. Several Common Buzzards are flying around and alighting in trees, upsetting the local corvids. Shortly before Eaton Hall, large numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Rooks are on areas of grass in the flooded fields. A freight train rumbles south. Across the A44 again and along the river to Millennium Woods where there is a large flock of Chaffinches and Blue Tits.

Wednesday – Liverpool – The journey to Liverpool is quite easy despite roadworks and a flurry of sleet and snow. Our hotel is in the centre so we park up and wander down towards the galleries and museums. We cannot pass Ma Egerton’s, a pub next to the Empire Theatre which has walls covered with photographs of mainly old faces from the classic days of entertainment. In 1848, the site was part of a large building housing the indigent blind school. In 1864 it was a coffee house run by the Hoffman, a German-Jewish family. By 1878 the building was called The Eagle, a hotel but had been refused an alcohol license. In 1891, Christopher Bond was running The Eagle. The hotel changed hands several times until in 1931, Mary Ma Egerton is the landlady. In 1934, the Paramount Cinema opens next door. Over the next half century many celebrities visit the pub after preforming next door. They include Laurel and Hardy, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. After a pint Statuewe head to The Walker Gallery and wander around the varied exhibits. One gallery has design from the past few centuries and it is interesting to note some early 19th century ceramics would be quite at home in a modern arts and crafts shop. There are the design classics we love, Christopher Dresser toast rack and tea pot; a gorgeous WMF dish, a pair of Wood & Co vases and numerous pieces of modern studio pottery. Cleverly, there are often ordinary modern pieces in with the artwork, e.g. a can of Cain’s Bitter in with beer drinking vessels from the past three centuries and Liverpool FC and Everton FC tea mugs with domestic ware. We then head upstairs to galleries of both modern and classic art. A Catherine Opie photographic exhibition of LGBT subjects is interesting. We are being very parochial about the paintings, like that, don’t like that even if it is a recognised masterpiece.

The buildings around here are on a monumental scale, the Walker, the library, the World Museum, St George’s Hall and Lime Street station, which our hotel overlooks and many more. We head down into the shopping area and agree we need to eat before drinking any more. We have what is the worst meal we have had in a pub possibly ever in Yates. We book into The Liner, a hotel that trades on the city’s long history as a port. The bedrooms are called cabins, but apart from a blue and white striped décor, the actual nautical connection looks pretty thin. But it is clean and warm, all one wants from an hotel room really! (Well the free parking in a city centre and free WiFi is a bonus.) Out of the window is Lord Nelson Street, Victorian terraces separated by Trafalgar Warehouse, now flats. There is considerable construction going on around the area. After a short break we walk through the streets to the Anglican cathedral. This is our third visit you this magnificent building. It is impressive that the lighting in the cathedral is very subdued and on a dark afternoon such as this the interior becomes vast and mysterious. A banquet is taking place later and tables are laid out in the nave. We wander around viewing the many side chapels. We then head off for the Dispensary, a pub we have visited before and have several fine pints.

Thursday – Liverpool – Breakfast is enlivened by watching Herring Gulls on the roofs of Lord Nelson Street, one strutting down the tiles like a self-important alderman to drink from the guttering. There is also the view of various cranes lifting materials onto the partially Liverpoolconstructed buildings. One wonders about a lorry from North Yorkshire who has delivered and is off before 8:30 in the morning – what time did he start? Off to an Andy Warhol exhibition at the Tate on the docks. Although many of the exhibits are very familiar, it is still good to see them as part of an overview of his works. Another exhibition is from American multimedia artist Gretchen Bender (1951–2004). This is the first solo exhibition of the artist’s work in the UK to date and showcases a selection of her immersive pioneering multimedia installations. Unseen for 20 years, a major highlight of the exhibition is a reconstruction of Bender’s seminal video performance Total Recall (1987). We then wander through the city centre – consumerism at its best or worst, depending on one’s view. Into The Beehive where we get a fine pint of Timothy Taylor’s Golden Best. I get quite disorientated in the pedestrian avenues of chain stores. But we then find The White Star pub, partly dedicated to the White Star Line, a famous shipping company, the Titanic overshadowing all their other great liners, along with other Liverpool celebrities, The Beatles, inevitably and various boxers. Again the beer is first class. We wander on for a while then head for the Museum of the World. It is housed in a magnificent building near the Library and Walker Gallery. It contains a wide selection of objects from all around the world, both from nature, e.g. fish and snakes, human ethnic and historical artefacts. We feel it is probably more fascinating, hopefully, for young people. In the early evening we head back to The Dispensary and after a couple of pints into China Town for a splendid meal.

Sunday – Leominster – The sky is covered with a scattering of thin, orange-grey clouds. It is mild today. The current weather pattern consists of alternate mild and cold days as fronts move through. A Collared Dove lands on a lamp post with a strangled cry and then starts to coo. House Sparrows chatter. Down the Worcester Road and over the railway, silent on a Sunday morning. On to Eaton bridge. The River Lugg is less deep and slower than of late. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips from a telegraph pole then flies off across the river. Robins sing, a Magpie chatters, Blue Tits squeak. A pair of Mallard fly downstream. On the southern side of the bridge the water swirls and eddies over unseen obstacles. At the Stoke Prior junction, a Great Tit sings his two-note, squeaky bicycle wheel song. A long Redwing sits motionless in a bare tree. From Eaton Hill the western hills are very and gloomy, only the Black Mountains retaining the vestiges of recent snow. A local with his lurcher expresses his surprise that he has not seen any rabbits although the burrows look freshly used. He wonders if someone has been lamping up here. A path down the hillside seems to have been recently cleared. The path is shown as a track on the 1887 map but has disappeared from the modern OS map. Back down the hill where a gentle meeping reveals a small number of Bullfinches which vanish in a trice. A Wren whirrs across the track and a Blackbird searches the leaf litter. Eaton Hill lies across the field. The hill above contains a number of fine trees. The Herefordshire Council historical records state: The 1832 OS 1 map shows a house called The Hill, as well as several cottages. The present house named Eaton Hill was built by Thomas Burlton JP in the 1860s or 70s. He probably also laid out the grounds and emparked the hill slope. Burlton created a small-scale deer-park, probably the last in the county. The 1929 sale catalogue describes the lawns adjacent to the house, which have ball-shaped evergreens, a pine tree, ornamental trees, flower beds and borders, shrubberies with walks, and summer-houses. There is a large conservatory at the south end of the house, and to the north side is a pool and a well-stocked walled garden. The hill slope above the house had mixed planting, while a further 140 acres of woodland lies to the south. Cheaton Brook is flowing low and relatively clear. A Common Buzzard is in a tree overlooking the garden of Lugg View. It has a very white breast. The bells of the Minster are ringing.

Sheep

Monday – Hergest Ridge – There is sunshine but the clouds look ominous. It is not cold but a rising wind will soon chill. Nuthatches call from the trees at the top of Ridgebourne Road. A Jay squawks in the woods, Great, Coal and Blue Tits, Chaffinches, Dunnocks and Blackbirds search the hedges, a Common Buzzard calls from over the A44 and a Carrion Crow croaks in the fields. Up the ridge path. One of the Rowans has split in two, one half still upright, the other has fallen. As expected the wind is bitter. Ravens sail with the wind. Meadow Pipits and Skylarks twitter as they fly low and fast over the dead, flattened bracken. There are plenty of ponds and pools on the summit. Sheep are moving up the hill from the western side. Several appear to be Welsh Mountain Badger sheep with black underparts and black flashes beside their eyes. Clouds are building in the west. A Peregrine Falcon soars across the northern flank. Down the track towards Gladestry but it is getting darker, so I decide it makes more sense to return over the ridge rather than taking the road. To the south-west the Black Mountains are topped by low cloud. The Peregrine returns along the edge of the ridge. Suddenly five Skylarks rise into the sky, all singing, four drop back down into the bracken but one continues to soar in song. A Red Kite appears briefly over the ridge. Ponies are on the highest point. There are large numbers of crab apples under the row of trees. It seems surprising that the winter thrushes and other species have not polished this lot off! Back down to Ridgebourne Road where the considerable size of the Chaffinch and Tit flock can be seen as they explode off the road into the trees and hedgerow.

Friday – Middleton on the Hill – It is near freezing and beginning to cloud over. Down to the 1844 iron footbridge over the Kenwater which is flowing rapidly, filled with overnight rain. The bushes along the river are well populated with Great and Blue Tits, Dunnocks, House Sparrows, Blackbirds and Robins. Along to Ridgemoor and on across the fields from Hay Lane. Winter thrushes are now in singles, the large flocks have either moved on or dispersed. It is not surprising as the Hawthorns have been comprehensively stripped of their haws. A pile of pigeon feathers shows where a bird has been plucked and devoured. As if to prove my earlier comment wrong, there is a Badger Slidesubstantial flock of Fieldfares, mixed with Starlings and Goldfinches in the sheep pasture where Cheaton Brook meanders. Large molehills follow the course of the stream. Behind, to the west, the Radnor Hills are snow-covered. On along the Grantsfield road. The lane rises then drops to Lower Pyke crossroads. Just beyond a lane turns off to Kimbolton at Pyke Cottage. Along the lane there is a large abandoned workshop then several large, decaying chicken houses. The feeder towers do not look that old but the whole site has been abandoned. Opposite is an extensive orchard. The ground looks well maintained but many of the trees have considerable amounts of Mistletoe infesting their branches. A muddy slide down a bank shows where Badges slither down and scramble up. Over Yolk Brook and up to the Tenbury road. Along a section of road called Hopnall Way and then off down a lane. New House (Newhouse on the 1886 map) is a large double roofed farmhouse, probably early 19th century oddly, clad in timber at the end. An old barn and oast house are attached. It has a large pond and barn conversion. Beyond the lane is clearly seldom used, indeed someone has parked their vehicle in the lane blocking it.

The lane joins the Kimbolton to Middleton on the Hill lane. Snowdrops flower on roadside banks. Across a brook at Lower Kimbolton Farm and on up a hill towards the Stockton to Middleton on the Hill lane. A large stand of bamboo is in full leaf (not surprising for an evergreen) at the entrance to Hillside Cottage. Cogwell Brook is flowing rapidly beside the lane. Onto the Middleton on the Hill lane at Cog Hall. The lane meets the lane that passes through The Hundred to Ashton. Ahead, Titterstone Clee has a thin coating of snow. A hedge is growing through an old cast iron fence beside the road. A large flock of Rooks feed in a field. Past a farm called The Rock where conifers have been heavily pruned filling the site with a resinous scent. The lane twists and turns past the drive to Lower Withers Farm which has a Georgian farmhouse with fine views. Past a substantial house called Five Ashes. Up a lane to Middleton Farmhouse, a house with an early 17th century kitchen wing and a main block dated 1692. The nearby granary converted into another fine residence. Opposite Middleton on the Hill is the church of St Mary. The church tower is being restored with scaffolding surrounding the building. Middleton was mentioned in the Doomsday Book as Micletune, meaning large village, farm, enclosure or manor. The hamlet of Middleton, once connected by several roads, is now in a cul de sac surrounded by fields. In 1848, about a third of Middleton Parish was transferred to St Michaels, Bockleton to create a new Parish. With the loss of Parishioners and the decline in agriculture the number of funerals held annually decreased from about five to the present level of about one a year between 1850 and 1920. The nave and the chancel date almost completely from the 12th century and the tower was added in the 13th century. It is constructed from random coursed local sandstone. The bells are over 500 years old and are inscribed, Sancti Maria Ora Pro Nobis; Missi te (de) delis habeo noman Gabrielis and Eternis Annis Resonant Campana Johanis. Its plate is believed to have been hidden during the dissolution of the monasteries and never recovered. Inside the organ is wrapped in polythene and any papers or objects that would normally be in a church have been removed. The are just a few plaques on the wall. One reads:-

His sister’s memorial is above. She also died young. A glass telltale to check movement is fixed to the tower wall and is, ominously, cracked, hence the restoration I guess. There is a War Memorial, one of only 13 in the country, giving thanks for the safe return of all the men of the Parish who fought in the two World Wars as a result Middleton on the Hill is known as one of the Doubly Thankful Villages. Back along the road towards the crossroads. Soft crumbly layers of rock are exposed by the road, the St Maughans deposits from the Devonian. A little further on are dry stone walls constructed of these flat pieces of stone, expertly built with differing thickness building up and interlocking. A Common Buzzard does over the Millhedge, jinking in panic as it sees me. I can see the snow on Titterstone Clee has thawed somewhat in the last few hours. I turn south at the crossroads. A pasture contains another large flock of Starlings and Fieldfares. A cries of Canada Geese come from polls behind The Rock farm.

The buildings of Moor Abbey lay in the valley below. Moor Abbey was formally a possession of Leominster Priory. It has a late 17th century pigeon house which can be seen across the fields. It needs to be visited. The lane reaches the Tenbury road again and a short dogleg takes me to the lane to Bache. The lane passes through Woonton. Woonton Court Farm has a 16th century farmhouse with seven rows of nesting boxes with alighting ledges to north-east gable end. Hens scratch on a large pile of gravel in a barn. A lady in a car stops for a chat and we discuss the extent of the mud, the privatisation of Bodenham Lakes and Queenswood Country Park, excess salt on the roads until the arrival of a mail van means she had to move on. Just beyond the court is a converted cider mill. Woonton is three or four houses about quarter of a mile on. From here the lane leads to Bache, the hill-fort laying ahead. I take the track down to Brook Farm and across the ford. There is a muddy path of sorts along the side of the ford but it is more fun wading up the brook, proving my boots really are watertight. A couple of military jets roar over causing Common Pheasants to croak. There have been a couple of brief showers but I seem to have missed the heavier ones which can be seen in the distance. Now the wind has risen bringing a considerable chill factor. Along the banks are the signs of spring – little whorls of Primrose, Celandine and umbellifer leaves and even Cleavers which seem bright and promising despite the fact they will grow into choking masses with nasty, clinging seeds. Back near Forbury there is another large thrush flock in a field, this time Redwings, completely disproving my earlier rumination – the haws may have been eaten but the flocks are still here seeking invertebrates in the sheep fields. Despite the season, in a sheltered part of the lane, gnats are dancing in the sunlight. Through Pyke crossroads and on across the pastures towards Hay Lane. A pair of Mallard fly up from Cheaton Brook. The sun is shining again and out of the wind it is pleasantly warm. Wild Arum leaves are unfurling in the coppice by Hay Lane. Two military transport aircraft roar down the valley of the Lugg.